BANGOR, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage toured the Penobscot Job Corps Academy on Friday and spoke to an assembly of students about the importance of staying in school and the problem of domestic violence in the state.
“Domestic violence is a very serious problem in society,” LePage said to a crowd of about 300 at the academy, a postsecondary technical training school on Union Street. “I’m trying to encourage you to do two things: If you’ve never been exposed to it, please don’t. Secondly, if you have been, you need to help me stop it. Because too many people are getting hurt and too many people are dying.”
LePage noted that June is the one-year anniversary of the Lake family murders. Last year, Amy Lake and her two children, Coty and Monica, were killed by her estranged husband, Steven, before he killed himself.
“The governor has been an outspoken advocate in legislation as well as [telling] his own story,” said Mike Jellison, business and community liaison for the academy. “Today’s assembly was about awareness for our young people and how serious domestic violence is and ways to avoid, ways to run from it and ways to prevent it.”
Amanda Cost of Spruce Run, an organization aimed at ending domestic abuse, also spoke during the assembly.
Questions from students in the audience varied from LePage’s experiences with homelessness, jobs he has held, the perks that go with being governor, and if he has thoughts of running for president in the future.
“Me be president? The country couldn’t stand it,” LePage said with a laugh.
LePage also expressed how important education is, especially to himself.
“If you’re thinking of dropping out, you’re making a big, big mistake,” said the governor. “By dropping out, you’re copping out. That’s not going to make anything good happen to you if you cop out. You need to stand [up to] it and fight it.”
He mentioned how his first day of college was the turning point of his life.
“The day I entered college, I knew I would never drop out and I knew that I’d be successful. That’s when I truly believe my life began,” said LePage.
State Sen. Peter Snowe gave LePage his biggest boost, he said.
“He gave me a challenge, he said if you can find a [college] to take you, and I’ll pay for your first year,” LePage said of Snowe, who was married to now-U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe when he died in a car crash. “So I applied to 50 schools and got rejected by every one until finally, here in Bangor, [I got] an interview [at Husson] and [they] accepted me.”
Aside from lowering taxes and energy costs, one of LePage’s chief goals is to lower Maine’s high school dropout rate, he said.
“Twenty-one percent of kids in high school drop out [in Maine]. I want to reverse that. I don’t believe any kid or any person should drop out of high school,” he said. “I think we should try to find a way to keep them interested, and that’s not the children’s problem, that’s the educator’s problem. We have to get school more interesting.”
LePage also took three jabs at the press during his 30-minute question-and-answer session. He was asked by a student if he’s happy being the governor.
“As long as I don’t have to speak to the press, I’m in absolute happiness,” he said.
LePage also fielded several questions about jobs he has held over the years. As a kid, he said, his aspiration was to be a truck driver.
“When I ran away from home, the only thing I wanted to do was to … get a license to become a Pepsi-Cola truck driver,” he said. “I never did. I had a ton of different jobs, but I never did get a Class A [driver’s] license.”
Those other jobs he mentioned?
“I had paper routes, I worked in shoe shops, I worked at a meat factory. I used to make McDonald’s hamburger patties. Believe me, if you ever had one of my patties, you wouldn’t eat there,” said LePage, adding that he worked on a Pepsi truck, did house painting, was a bartender and a short-order cook. “The day I graduated from college, I said I’ll never cook again and I haven’t.”
He said his first job was working at a grocery story where he earned 39 cents an hour. After about a year, he got a raise to 49 cents per hour.
“I was so excited. I was one cent away from 50 cents an hour,” he said. “I went to the owner and said, ‘Can I get a one-cent raise?’ He said, ‘You’re not worth it.’”
LePage encouraged the students to set goals and go after them.
“Take advantage of the opportunities you have here. There’s nothing in the world you can’t do if you put your mind to it. It’s that simple,” he said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist. Believe me, I’m not the brightest guy on earth.”